Cold Water Protection and the Racing Iceboater


By Eric Anderson

February 10, 2011


Eric on his way to forth place in the 2010 Eastern DN Championship on Lake Champlain.

 A number of people have weighed in on wearing wetsuits and drysuits, flotation suits, safety gear. etc while iceboating.  I thought I would add my perspective as someone who focuses strictly on racing DN’s as the priorities change a bit from a cruising mindset.


The first part is prevention.   A race course should not have any significant obstacles or questionable areas in it unless they are carefully marked.  A sailor when racing, is focused on other boats, tactics, boat speed, location relative to the marks, etc.  Adding significant obstacles to the mix creates problems and should be avoided if possible.

A race course  usually occupies a smaller section of a lake or bay.  Realistically we use a chunk that is about 1.5 miles by 1.5 miles max and often as small as 0.5X0.5 miles.  From our perspective we are confined to a limited area and therefore can do a better job of checking it.   

A lake is usually  walked and/or skated, holes are chopped to determine ice thickness and structure. Next the proposed race area is sailed slowly with the sail raised for better visibility.  Anything that looks questionable is examined.  After marks are set.  I try to sail the course with several other sailors: one sailing along each layline, upwind and down wind and one sailing up the middle of the course.  We stop and compare notes at the windward mark and switch sides down wind.  The first pass is done slowly sitting up in the boat so you can look around.  After that you try a hot lap at speed to make sure it is not too bumpy. 

If you do your job right as a race organizer, no one goes swimming.   

Often the most difficult part is getting to and from the racecourse safely.  The boats and sailors are vulnerable because they are often carrying a lot of extra (heavy) gear out to the racecourse. 


There are a number of things at play when it comes to clothing selection.  In an ideal world, clothing must be, aerodynamic, warm, provide good running  traction,  not restrict movement when running or sailing, breathable when you are sweating, windproof, provide some impact protection, maintain core temperature when you are swimming, be at least neutrally buoyant, comfortable and dirt cheap.  That is all. 

 So what do I wear while racing?

Feet  thin wicking socks, then wool blend socks over that and New Balance javelin shoes.  Javelin shoes are more sturdy than track shoes, the new balance ones are waterproof which is nice in slush.     Still fairly warm when wet.  I only put in spikes in the toes

Body  I wear  Craft wind stopper underwear (common for cyclists and cross country skiers), then polypropylene farmer John long underwear. I wear a wicking undershirt  plus a polypro thermal long sleeve shirt.  On the outside, I wear a Henderson Trilam warm water dive suit with a front zipper.  It is basically very thin neoprene then a windproof layer, then fleece.  The company says it is equivalent to a 2 mm wetsuit in thermal performance in the water.

HeadOn my head I wear a  polypro  baklava thin or thick depending on the temperature and a Jofa ski racing helmet.  I really like goggles that adjust to differing light intensity.  Rose color seems good for flat light conditions.

Hands  For my hands I wear either leather gloves or leather mittens


So far I have been swimming once in this setup.  I sailed into an open lead about 50 ft wide.  I swam to the other (upwind) side towing the boat and then lifted the nose of the boat onto the ice, and crawled up the back of the boat and onto the ice.  I then pulled the boat out of the water with great difficulty and sailed back to the pits.  I was in the water3-4 minutes, and about 15 min getting the boat out of the water and sailing back to the pits.  I was cold, but not shivering uncontrollably or noticeably hypothermic.

To me the Trialam suit is a good compromise for DN racing.  It offers some cold water protection, is fairly aerodynamic, comfortable and I can run in it.   Races are usually only about 15 min so you don’t get too chilly in that period of time unless it is very cold.  I don’t wear any flotation devices.  On the other hand, I sail a 12 ft long flotation device. 

I wear ice picks at all times, but I have a less bulky set I use while racing.

Between races or when you are standing around, I add the following stuff to keep warm  Cabellas snowmobile suit, Neos Explorer Stablicer overshoes (buy them extra big so the spikes fit), and a fur cap to keep my head warm.


 As far as rescue stuff, I have carried a 50 ft throw line for a while in the boat.  After thinking about it this year I decided I would not be able to get to it behind the seat when I needed it so took it out of the boat.

I carry a rescue pack that contains a 50 ft throw bag with a carabineer attached to one end, an ice screw, a waterproof headlamp, and an extra set of ice picks.  I also usually have an emergency space blanket with me.  Mostly I leave this in the trailer if it is a small lake, or carry it to the pits with me if it is a bigger lake.

I am not an authority on cold water and or, swimming but this seems to work for me.



Eric Anderson lives in Connecticut. He recently sailed in the DN world championships and placed  in the middle of the very competitive gold fleet.  He has been an active developer of safety practices related to iceboat racing.